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  • Writer's pictureJonathan E. Pearl

How Danish can help bring home the bacon

I learned a little trick from @MandyLenton, who I had the pleasure of observing when I was getting my CMC accreditation. Mandy recommends: always have some protein bars in your bag for those long days when your energy is flagging, and there isn’t the time or opportunity to have a proper meal. This is a tip for mediators on how to look after themselves, and to be as effective as they can be.

I’d go a step further. Actually offer some pastries (or better still, protein bars) to the parties at your next mediation / negotiation. This tactic might sound too obvious — but it’s extremely clever. Serving some nice Danish does several important things:

  • It promotes Mimicking Behaviour. Both parties will be eating — and this mimicry builds rapport (see Chartrand & Bargh, 1999). Research confirms that eating improves negotiations (Maddux, Mullen, & Galinsky, 2008; Balachandra, 2013).

  • It prompts Reciprocity. You are providing an Unsolicited Favour. Even if the parties hate pastries, this unsolicited favour will trigger an urge to reciprocate (that is: to listen to you, or to make concessions etc. Cialdini, 2006).

  • It can help Build Trust. For our mammoth-eating ancestors, eating was a moment of vulnerability when you couldn’t defend yourself. Inviting another caveperson to join you for a meal was therefore a symbol of trust – and it still is. (Pearl, 2013)

  • It increases the Parties’ Glucose Levels. As those of you with young kids know, people often behave more aggressively if their glucose level is low (Donohoe & Benton, 1999). On the other hand, increasing glucose levels can actually boost cooperation (Denson, von Hippel, Kemp, & Teo, 2010). Pastries and coffee increase glucose levels, so they should reduce aggression (Lane, 2011). But beware – as anyone with kids knows - a sugar overload can lead to ‘tears before bedtime’.

  • Introducing pastries and perhaps coffee is an opportunity to break the meeting for some reflection, and a break in proceedings can completely change the eventual outcome of the meeting. I remember a very tough mediation where a few friendly words swapped between the parties’ principals as we queued up to serve ourselves from a buffet formed the basis for a productive afternoon – and an eventual amicable settlement.

  • Add a hot cup of coffee to the pastry and this promotes a physical feeling of warmth. Our brain confuses physical warmth with personal warmth. Holding a warm beverage (e.g. coffee) boosts our interpersonal warmth and cooperative behaviour (Williams & Bargh, 2008).


Pearl, D (2013). Will There Be Donuts?

Balachandra, L. (2013). Should you eat while you negotiate. Harvard Business Review.

Chartrand, T. L., & Bargh, J. A. (1999). The chameleon effect: the perception–behavior link and social interaction.

Cialdini, R. B. (2006). Influence: the psychology of persuasion, revised edition.

Denson, T. F., von Hippel, W., Kemp, R. I., & Teo, L. S. (2010). Glucose consumption decreases impulsive aggression in response to provocation in aggressive individuals.

Donohoe, R. T., & Benton, D. (1999). Blood glucose control and aggressiveness in females.

Lane, J. D. (2011). Caffeine, glucose metabolism, and type 2 diabetes.

Maddux, W. W., Mullen, E., & Galinsky, A. D. (2008). Chameleons bake bigger pies and take bigger pieces: Strategic behavioural mimicry facilitates negotiation outcomes.

Williams, L. E., & Bargh, J. A. (2008). Experiencing physical warmth promotes interpersonal warmth.

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